Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Deep Calls to Deep

The Apostle Paul, missionary to the Gentiles, had a difficult assignment from the Lord. Reading from the Acts of the Apostles:

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.   (Acts 16:11-15)

Paul was not speaking in a synagogue, but to a group of women meeting in prayer outside Philippi, far from Jerusalem. Lydia was listening and believe. She not only believed but was baptized and started a church in her home. What moved her so quickly? She was listening eagerly to the message from God.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus speaks to his disciples about the Holy Spirit who will teach them everything:

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.   (John 14:23-27)

God wants to speak to us by his Spirit. He wants to teach us. He wants to lead us into all truth. But we must be listening. He has given us the capacity to hear him and to understand. We must listen with our whole being. We must listen with our heart as well as our mind. The psalmist wrote:

Deep calls to deep
    at the thunder of your torrents;
all your waves and your billows
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.   (Psalm 42:7-8)

The depth of God calls out to our deepest level. He says: “Listen to my words of life.” He speaks to us through his Spirit and we must listen with our spirit, The Apostle Paul wrote:

God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.   (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)

The enemy does not want us to hear God. God is speaking to us, but the enemy will do everything possible to distract us from hearing what is being said. One of his ways is to ramp up the voices of this world. It should come as a surprise to us that Satan controls much of the media and entertainment. We might find these voices stimulating and even exciting for a period of time, but their effect is not lasting. Ultimately, they may be depressing. Clearly today’s news is purposely meant to be depressing.

How do we counteract the distracting voices of this world? We must not focus our attention on them, but, rather, on the word of God. Yet it is impossible to drown out all the distraction of this world. We must be proactive. We must fortify ourselves against them. The Apostle Paul wrote:

But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.   (Jude 1:20-21)

Pray. Let the Spirit lead us. And, most importantly, keep ourselves in the love of God. God always loves us but we do not always love him. If we are not careful, we may blame him for all that the discouraging things we see today. There seems to be little justice being served. God is at work. He is moving behind the scene. His timing is perfect, but that is not always our timing. Let us keep the faith and witness to the world the love which God pours into us.

The psalmist wrote:

May God be merciful to us and bless us,
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

Let your ways be known upon earth,
your saving health among all nations.   (Psalm 67:1-2)

God wants to show us and teach us his ways. The world needs to see his ways in us. Let us hold onto the truth of God’s love. Lydia listened deeply to God and she made a commitment to him from her heart. Have we made a similar commitment

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.   (John 3:16)

Again, Paul wrote:

Keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 

 

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Fifth Sunday of Easter

A New Commandment

Abraham descendants were God’s chosen people, but they misunderstood the full meaning of their covenant. They added many human traditions to God Commandments, losing sight of how the Commandments were to impact their daily lives and conduct. Something was missing. The human traditions had watered down the Commandments to a set of rules that the religious leadership  would determine how to keep. The scribes and Pharisees imposed all of this on the people, while they, themselves, failed to follow them. Jesus continually pointed out their hypocrisy.

Jesus was the living example of keeping the Commandments of God. In his Sermon on the Mount he said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished”.   (Matthew 5:17-18)

His fulfilling the Law and the Prophets was done on a cruel cross. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus attempted to prepare his disciples of what would follow:

“Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   (John 13:33-35)

This was the most important instruction that Jesus would give to his disciples before he faced the cross. “New” in the New Testament Greek Kainen (καινὴν) implies freshness, or the opposite of “outworn” rather than simply “recent” or “different.” Jesus had loved them without reservation and without limit. He wanted his disciples to do the same for others. His cross would illustrate the breath and depth of God’s love for us.

The Apostle Peter, as we see in today’s reading from Acts, gained a greater understanding of what Jesus was saying. Peter had gone to the home of Cornelius, who was centurion of the Italian regiment. Cornelius feared God, gave generous offerings to the people, and was a devout man of prayer. God was moved by Cornelius’ devotion. The Holy Spirit directed Peter to the house of Cornelius in an unusual way where a very extraordinary event took place. Peter shared the good new of the Gospel and Cornelius and his whole household believed on the Lord.

This brought repercussions, however. Reading from Acts:

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”   (Acts 11:1-3)

Judaism of the day, even in the Early Church, required Gentiles to undergo a man-made conversion ritual of circumcision, baptism, and offering a sacrifice before he could be counted as being ‘saved’. Gentiles were considered unclean and it was unlawful to enter the house of Gentiles and eat with them. This, however, was not God’s law, but Jewish tradition.

In answering the circumcised believers. Peter had to justify what he had done:

Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners, and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.  (Acts 11:4-10)

Peter was unsure what the dream meant at first. The dream was not really about Jewish dietary laws. It was saying that God alone is the one who determines who or what is is clean or not. It had to do with how Jewish people looked upon Gentiles.

Peter went to the home of Cornelius. While he was preaching the Gospel, something remarkable happened. We read from Acts:

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, `John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”  (Acts 11:15-18)

By a sovereign act of God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles made it clear that Gentiles were not unclean to him, even if they were not circumcised. This was radical Judaism. But it was not radical to God. This act was just a fresh understanding of God’s love for the Early Church leaders to witness. It reflected what Jesus was saying to his disciples on the night of his betrayal: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.”

God’s love must always be new to us. It is doing extraordinary things right before our eyes. In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John heard this promise from God:

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”   (Revelation 21:1-5)

Can we grasp what God is telling us today, or are we stuck in the old, determining what is clean and unclean? God wants to expand our understanding of his love. Our theology and church doctrine can often stand in the way if we are not careful. Let us meditate on the new commandment that Jesus has given us.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.   (Romans 6:4)

Can we love others that way Jesus loves us? We can if we are able to let go of the old and embrace all the new that God is teaching and sharing with us.

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Third Sunday of Easter

Restored to Glory

Peter had betrayed the Lord Jesus, the one he loved more than anything in the world. Saul, who was truly zealous for the house of God, had betrayed the real house of God, the body of Christ. How could these men get so far off?

Peter and Saul were very dissimilar. Peter was following Jesus and Saul was persecuting Jesus. Yet they were alike in some ways. Both fell under the tyranny of an hierarchical power structure of church or state. There was little difference between these two structures. They demand that we follow them or they will punish us. Peter knew that he might be destined for punishment, maybe even tortured like Jesus. Saul was on the side of punishers. That was the best insurance policy against punishment.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”   (John 21:1-19)

Christian discipleship is not about pleasing people or the power structure. If we are receiving any opposition to our faith, then perhaps we should examine our our hearts.

The destinies of both Peter and Saul were about to change. Peter would become the leader of the true Church, the body of Christ. Saul would become Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, and author of two-thirds of the New Testament. Both were hit received forgiveness from God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Peter had the teaching and preparation directly from Jesus. Jesus would tell him he would no longer be in control of his life. Rather, he would feed the sheep at all costs. Saul was not have the same history. But he had a great zeal for Judaism and the interpretation of the Jewish leadership. He was a brilliant student of Torah, but he was misguided by his teachers. Jesus confronted him:

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”   (Acts 9:1-6)

Saul was physically blinded. But when his sight was restored he received his spiritual sight. Saul became Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament.

Do we live under fear of corrupt authority, often motivated by evil intentions? Jesus said:

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.   (Luke 6:26)

If that is our hope for protection from harm, must realize that these authorities do not have our best interests in mind. The psalmist wrote:

I will exalt you, O Lord,
because you have lifted me up
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

O Lord my God, I cried out to you,
and you restored me to health.

You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead;
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.   (Psalm 30:1-3)

God is our source of protection. But Christians are are in a war zone. We need to put on the full protection of God:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.   (Ephesians 6:10-11)

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   (Ephesians 6:13-17)

Tye Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him:

7God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.   (2 Timothy 1:7)

We are not called to live in fear. In John’s First Epistle we read:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

God is our protection. He is o9r source of strength. He is the one who builds us up in love so that we may not live in fear. We no linger have to hide ourselves in falsehood and tyranny of this fleeting world. Let us lead a life hidden in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.   (Colossians 3:1-4)

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Maundy Thursday

The Lord’s Supper

On the night before he suffered, our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. It is referred to as the Lord’s Supper, the Last Supper, the Holy Communion, the Eucharist, and the Mass, depending upon which branch of the Church is observing it. The forerunner of this service is found in the Book of Exodus.

Through Moses, God gave the children specific instructions concerning their last supper in Egypt, before he led them out of their bondage there. They were to prepare a lamb for the meal in this manner:

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.   (Exodus 12:5-17)

What was the purpose of the blood? It was God’s protection from the destruction that was coming:

It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.   (Exodus 12:11-14)

Jesus is the prophetic fulfillment of the Jewish Passover. Jesus’ last supper with His disciples was not the Seder or Passover Meal, however. Rather, it was a preparation for the Passover. The Passover meal could not be served until the slaughtering of the lambs outside the city, which would occur the next day, the same day Jesus would be slaughtered on the cross.

Jesus was doing something new with His disciples. He was proclaiming His death before it actually happened. He said that His body was to be broken and that His blood was to be shed. He was saying that he was the last Passover lamb sacrificed for the sins of the people. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world once and for all.

The Apostle Paul writes about this special meal in today’s Epistle reading:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Jesus was asking His disciples to anticipate in his crucifixion, participate in His suffering, and keep His sacrifice always in their memory. They would not just be remembering with their minds what had happened, but they would actually be partaking in the event themselves in a spiritual way. John’s Gospel speaks of both the power and the necessity of the Communion service.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”   (John 6:53-58)

Today, we are invited by our Lord to anticipate his power entering into our lives more and more as we participate in his Holy Communion. We are asked to do more than just remember an historical event. We are asked to come to his Holy table with great expectation. In order to fully experience the resurrection we must be willing to enter into Jesus’ passion and death. This is our opportunity once more to die to our sins so that we might be empowered by his Spirit, to begin a resurrected life on this earth and in the age to come, a life eternal.

After Communion Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment. Jesus said that by this commandment His disciples would demonstrate the resurrected life:

“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   (John 13:31-35).

As we empty ourselves and take on more of Him, we become a living witness of His resurrection. Let us declare as did the Apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.    (Galatians 2:19-20)

Can we imagine what Jesus had to face on our behalf? His gift was beyond price. It rings down through the ages. What are we prepared to give him today?

 

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